Wednesday is the first day of March, which means the best month of college basketball has arrived. Some smaller conference tournaments already have begun, and all the major ones take place next week. Selection Sunday is March 14.
March (Madness) Is Here: Houston Remains Favorite To Win NCAA Tournament
The 2023 Final Four is being held at NRG Stadium in Houston, and the top-ranked Cougars are the +750 national championship favorites. No team from outside a current Power 6 league (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Big East, Pac-12 and SEC) has won it all since UNLV in 1990. Houston is in the AAC but will move to the Big 12 next season.
The Cougars (27-2) already have clinched the AAC regular-season title. Kelvin Sampson has tied Hall of Fame Coach Guy V. Lewis for the most conference titles in school history with six. Houston is the only undefeated team in non-home games in the nation in 2022-23. The Cougars have posted a 9-0 record in road games with a 2-0 mark in neutral-site.
Houston leads the nation in scoring defense (55.9), and scoring margin (+20.2), ranks second in field-goal percentage defense (35.9), stands third in 3-point field goal per- centage defense (27.2), ranks among the country’s Top 10 in turnover mar- gin (+4.8, 7th), turnovers (9.8, 8th), rebounding margin (+7.5, 9th) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.55, 10th), and is among the Top 25 in offensive rebounding (12.9, 12th), rebounding (38.9, 22nd) and blocked shots (4.8, 23rd).
In addition to the national statistical rankings, the Cougars also rank #1 in the NCAA NET rankings, KenPom.com efficiency rankings and ESPN BPI. They are the only team in the nation to rank among the Top-10 leaders in both KenPom offensive and defensive efficiency. The Cougars are 1-1 against nationally ranked opponents during the 2022-23 season. Houston has played at least one nationally ranked opponent in 11 consecutive seasons.
Houston seems a lock for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament as does SEC regular-season champion Alabama, which is +800 to win it all. Alabama has won 11 SEC games by double digits, tying the program record set by the 1955-56 team. The Crimson Tide are the first SEC team to score 100 points versus three conference opponents since the 1997-98 Arkansas team. Freshman Brandon Miller is the only player in Division I to score at least 545 points, record 225 rebounds and make 85 three-pointers this season.
Bama is ranked No. 2 in the AP Top 25 Poll, the highest ranking in program history this late into the season. The Crimson Tide are one of two schools (Houston) to rank in the top 15 in both defense adjusted efficiency (No. 5) and in offense adjusted efficiency (No. 15) according to KenPom.
The Crimson Tide have five top-25 wins this season, which ranks second-best in the nation behind Purdue and Kansas. Alabama is 5-2 against top-25 opponents this season. Bama became the only Power 5 team to start 12-0 in conference play while outscoring opponents by 250 combined points since 1980-81. After having the No. 1 strength of schedule in the nation a year ago, Alabama currently has the No. 1 strength of schedule this season. Alabama won at Houston 71-65 on Dec. 10.
The Pac-12 hasn’t had a national champion since 1997 but UCLA is among the favorites at +1100. The Bruins have won the Pac-12 regular-season title for the first time since 2013 (UCLA’s 32nd conference title). UCLA has won at least 20 games for the third consecutive season and for the eighth time in the last 12 seasons.
UCLA has limited the opposition to fewer than 70 points in 25 of 29 total contests this season. It ranks No. 7 nationally and No. 1 in the Pac-12 in fewest points allowed per game (59.7). The Bruins have committed fewer turnovers than their opponent in 28 of 29 games this season. UCLA has posted a 14-1 record when committing fewer than 10 turnovers in a game.
Coach Mick Cronin’s team has been ranked No. 2 in the KenPom ratings, trailing No. 1 Houston. The Bruins have the No. 22-ranked adjusted offensive efficiency rating and the No. 2-ranked adjusted defensive efficiency ranking. The Bruins have gone 10-4 in 13 road and neutral site contests. That’s always important because obviously the NCAA Tournament is all neutral-site games. UCLA has compiled a 7-2 NCAA Tournament record over the past two seasons.
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